Ghosts of Projects Past


I promised the Pretty & the Kitch I would share this little gem. It’s a dress of questionable quality and a tale of the late 90s, learning to sew, how not to sew and what happens to bridesmaids when a goth bride feels that she has to wear traditional white.

Please be kind, as time had not been to this garment. Without further ado I give you a much abused goth bridesmaid dress, in all it’s faded and rumpled glory. I promise that it looked better when it was newly made.

This dress started with what was either an 80s or 90s pattern. I no longer remember, but the Vogue 7614 1980s pattern is close. S thinks that it may have been a Simplicity pattern. Whatever the original, it had a rounded pointed waist and half sleeves. Basically, it was a sort of sweetheart neckline, high/low hem dress with half length puff sleeves that gathered slightly above the elbow. The bride decided on purple and to fill in the neckline area, a black lace with ribbon tie closure. The bride’s dress was the exact same pattern, but with long sleeves, without the high/low hem and no lace in the chest area.

It was either 1999 or 2000. S was the maid of honor, so I set out with my I’ve-only-made-questionable-Renaissance-faire-costumes-since-equally-questionable-high-school-era-drama-class-Camelot costumes skills to help her make this dress. I didn’t remember this, but she now says she didn’t know how to use a sewing machine at that time.

Things I’d not done previously or had little experience with, but needed to do, for this dress:

  1. Use a pattern
  2. Work with slippery satin
  3. Work with lace
  4. Line anything
  5. Put in a zipper
  6. Do a high/low hem
  7. Make the thing fit

And so it began.

Did we prewash the fabric? Maybe.

Did we make a muslin? Doubtful. I think we got lucky in the fit.

Did we know about ironing seams as you go? No.

Did I throw up my hands in frustration when trying to make the lining seams match those of the fashion fabric? Yes. Happily, S’s mother stepped in for the save and wrestled that lining into submission. I checked today and the seams at the waist are more than an inch off between the two, but it looks ok.

I’ve just been told that I did almost all of figuring and tweaking, cutting out and construction. I remember almost none of the construction except the parts I had trouble with (the zip, matching the lining and the hem). In fact, I swear I hardly made any of it. Nope, I won’t claim this dress.

On the day of the wedding, of the 3(?) bridesmaids, S’s was the only dress that was complete. One was done, as a purple dress, but lacked all black lace. I swear the third wasn’t even quite finished, but I don’t remember the state of it. I wore a black lace dress with waterfall sleeves, in the bride’s honor (seeing as she was stuck in all white, true torture to a goth).

Considering this almost 20 year old dress with 30ish years gone fashion “sense”… I’m still cringing a little. The design aesthetic is not mine. The sweetheart neckline screams 80s line dancing and high/low hems with self lining can look heavy. Cheap satin gives me hives, and adding black lace to dark purple for bridesmaids dresses doubly so. Though not a very unique one, I do like the specific lace.

I think there’s a pucker on the bodice lining at the armhole. Yikes.

Looking at the garment as it is today, time has not been kind to it. The satin just hasn’t held up. In fact, the color has altered greatly, off gassing and fading to almost a wine color, lighter where it was sweated upon. Originally it was basically the same shade as the lining. This is a problem with cheap acetate satin and just another reason to not use it.

If there’s one thing I dislike more than sewing satin, it’s ironing it, so no beauty shots for this post. “Beauty” shots… Bwahahahahaha!

It looks like the skirt was attached with somewhat haphazard gathering. This may have been the start of S’s loathing of gathers. The skirt could fall better. But of course it is self lined with satin, which would make it a little thick for gathers. The skirt is no longer self lined. That part was sacrificed a couple years ago for another project. No one was going to wear this dress again anyway.

Construction in the sleeve is pretty good. I assume I had little to do with it. The head of the sleeve has a very 80s puff, and the black overlay makes me think of Beetlejuice (even though nothing in that movie looked like this dress). The little gather above the elbow was done with a handy piece of grossgrain ribbon on the inside. Looks like we had dark green.

Just wow on that zip. Painful.

If you look closely at the top of the seam where it attaches to the sleeve you can see that I stopped sewing too soon. Luckily the fabric lays in a way so there is no gap. Shoddy construction!

Neat hand stitches at the bottom on the bodice lining. Definitely not mine.You can see where we cut out the skirt lining later.

The last thing I want to point out is the zip. I assume I put it in, but not the lining near the zip, but I can’t be sure. Clearly I was unaware of invisible zippers at that time and I didn’t even sew it in with straight seams. I may not have had a zipper foot.

And there you have it – a tale of woe in goth dress form. Many lessons were learned on this project, including an intense dislike for sewing satin and the need to practice zippers. And practice zippers I must certainly did. Sometimes it takes an overly ambitious project for your skill level to give you a nudge to improve.

Sadly there are no remaining photos of the dress in it’s original time.

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Here’s another item I made this year, but failed to blog about.

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Finished dress front

This dress started with the fabric. I bought a three yard remnant with vague ideas of making a dress from it. When it came down to actually making it I quickly realized that I didn’t have enough fabric. Color blocking seemed the obvious solution. I went with a lighter shade from the print to keep it lighter for the late summer wedding I’d wear it to.

I wanted a fuller skirt, but longer than any pattern I had. I settled on an original 40s dress bodice and a reproduction ’61 dress skirt, lengthened. The bodice had a back zip and the skirt a size zip, so I’d move the skirt’s to the side and still managed to put pockets in. Every skirt needs pockets. I did a mock up in a flimsy, ghastly, mustard cotton and it looked like things were going about to plan. Then things went wrong.

The 40s bodice had an obvious spot to color block, the yoke and collar were one piece, so I’d do that and the bottom 1/3 of the skirt in the solid light blue. What I didn’t realize, even after the mock up, was that the way the arm holes of the bodice were cut, which allows for quick construction and was fairly shape confirming in wimpy cotton, would be stiff and look at least one size too large when made in two layers sturdier fabric. It was almost done and I hated it. Hated it. It was frumpy on me and the extra fabric under the arms didn’t help.

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Original 40s dress bodice

What I should have done was cut the yoke in the print and done the fold over collar portion in the light blue. Then I would have merely been disappointed with the arm hole fit.

It was one day before the wedding and I couldn’t wear it the way it was. Thereafter ensured a flurry of seam ripping to get the maximum possible fabric (ripping all of the top stitching so I could iron out every millimeter of the main torso pieces) and fiddling, this way and that, with what I had left. The pockets has taken up too much fabric because I tried to hang them from the waist seam inside. Ultimately this wouldn’t work and I’d cut them way back, thereby waisting a bunch of the print fabric. Grrr. I had absolutely nothing extra and no pieces that would cover the length of my torso, front and back.

So it would be a yoke after all. But how would I make the color blocking tie in? I tried several patterns in my stash and nothing quite worked. The 40s pattern was too shapeless, meaning that no other arm hole would work with the way the fabric had been cut.

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The only solution was an entirely new bodice. I didn’t have a plain basic bodice pattern in my size. I had to make one, fitting it with my husband’s assistance (which mostly involved him taking pics so I could see what was going on). I turned the bottom half of the originally cut bodice sideways and with one decently sized scrap came up with a single piece full front piece.

While trying to get the mock-up on I simply cut a slit down the back, from the neck hole, thinking I’d decide on the neck shape once it was on me. That’s when the ah-ha moment happened. The slit could stay, faced with the light blue to match the skirt’s color blocking.

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From there it was just a matter of binding the arm holes, stitching down the lining inside the yoke, attaching the bodice and skirt, putting in the zip, trimming off three inches of the bottom of the skirt (because the length of the 40s skirt really looked so much better in sturdy cotton) and hemming. Oh, and make a narrow self-fabric belt.

Finished just in time, I wore it with a full tulle underskirt and self painted, fabulous, blue heels, but those are another post.

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Finished dress back

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For the last few years my intention for gift giving has been to make as much as possible myself or buy from artsy friends or people at craft shows and online marketplaces like Etsy. With the exception of books (of course), electronics, music and other similar things. The idea is to give more thoughtfully and more specifically.

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The downsides to making and buying handmade are that I have to come up with ideas for items people will really like – I have to know them pretty well in some cases. I also have to plan way ahead. If I come up with an idea too late I might not have time to pull it off or it may be too dissimilar to the other things I’m making, increasing the time all around.

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This year I spent to much time on a doomed gift (a huge crochet project that I probably won’t finish until June now), made two dopp kits and five aprons, and bought one pair of electric toothbrushes. In typical fashion I undertook a new pattern, graded another up a size, created several custom graphics that were overly complex for the application, and used a technique I only had vague experience with. I completed my last task, setting the graphics on two of the aprons, Christmas morning. I also forgot to buy wrapping paper (which I like the look of, but always feel so wasteful for using…) and had to wrap gifts in crumpled brown paper and tissue paper I had on hand.

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Things turned out pretty well, though I made the mistake of buying twill for the aprons. It was a mistake only because the vinyl stencils didn’t stick perfectly to the slightly textured weave and images were not 100% crisp. I didn’t do the graphics on the Hawaiian fabric aprons (which I also didn’t take pics of apparently), but they weren’t lacking. I did turn the white flowers slightly pink pre washing the fabric, which is still bothering me, obviously. (Must remember to try those Tide color catcher sheets). I didn’t finish the inside of my husband’s dopp kit or get to wax it, but it looked good and came home with me anyway.

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All in all the gifts were received well. Would I want to repeat the Food Seasons in New Orleans graphics in exactly the same way? Maaaaybe. I need to work on my process in getting complicated stencils from the sticky cutting mat to the project surface. I’ve used stencil transfer paper, but I find it to sticky. Next time I may try some clear vinyl over my stencil instead.

Now that Christmas projects are over Happy new year!

This is part of my Ghosts of Projects Past series, where I finally document projects I just didn’t have a chance to post about while they were happening.

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Some friends got married this past July. The dress for their adorable flower girl needed altering. It fit pretty well, but their color was forest green and her sash was bright pink. That just wouldn’t do.

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Off came a funky flower and sad bow from the back. Off came the sash.

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It was a rush job, and she’d never fit into it again, so I didn’t bother separating the skirt from the bodice, I just cut and serged the fraying edges.

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On went the new sash and I finished it if with a fabric flower with a mother of pearl button center.

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I love Halloween, so any year that I get to do more than one is awesome! In 2013, we did the usual Halloween set up, which means we had about 100 pounds of candy. Someone said 115 total. Yeah, we go all out. It was year two for Mad Science, but we couldn’t just duplicate the previous year. What fun would that be? Last time we did Steampunk Mad Science, this time we emphasized the Mad.

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More after the jump. (more…)

20131026_090927It turns out that I live a few minutes from a fully restored 1890s Victorian Lighthouse, the Port San Luis Lighthouse. I had the pleasure to discover that when a friend asked if I’d like to help at a haunted house. I didn’t know where we were going or what I’d be doing. I just knew that I needed to be ready at 8am and (the night before she told me to) wear something Victorian.

The haunted house was a collaboration between the Lighthouse Keepers docent group and the Central Coast Paranormal Investigators. The CCPI did some ghost hunting in the weeks leading up to the haunted house and made their findings part of the tour experience. We had a cannibalistic fisherman’s family in residence with some gruesome victims – a girl chained to an old iron bed frame, a woman missing a limb in the basement, the White Lady, assorted ghouls and a couple zombies. And blood, lots of blood Each tour group included a plant who was attacked by the zombies. I think we got some genuine fright!

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Costume-wise it was more about gore, but I wore some pseudo-Victorian wear and trailed behind the groups to reset doors, etc. I basically recycled my New Orleans Halloween 2010 costume with the newer bolero jacket I made a couple of years later. The skirt was a thrifted a-line wool, which I added a black and white stripped flounce to, a matching black and white top, my green silk waist cincher, a (surprisingly matching gray poly) bolero with black and white striped piping, and my green false top “top hat”. The only thing I didn’t make was the thrifted part of the skirt.

If you have a chance to check out the lighthouse, at Halloween or any other time of the year, it’s worth the trip. Docent led tours are available on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Link love and lighthouse history:

Halloween is a great time to look at and make masks. I love them. Not the icky rubbery ones that come in an identical succession from the molds, but the beautiful or haunting ones made of leather, lace or feathers, even paper. The ones that embody Venetian Carnival or the wearable artworks I found in the French Quarter. I really started to love them when I started to make them. (Don’t let me give you the impression that I’ve made a lot of masks. I’ve made some, in a handful of techniques). Just writing this post makes me want to take them up again.

Wearable Goblin Mask

The mask above is one of my favorite wearable masks. It’s light and comfortable and the interior is molded exactly to my face. The outside is decorated with cream silk (from my wedding dress – no, I did not wear this at my wedding), gold lace edging and black and gold feathers for the eyebrows.

Pit-Fired Ceramic Goblin Face

I love to make goblin faces. The more the eyes bulge and the bigger and more crooked the nose, the better!

There is no wrong way to make a mask. (more…)

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